In early July, we hosted Wendy Morgan, 2* Junior Parelli Instructor, for a day of lessons. I took advantage of being the coordinator and scheduled two sessions for myself.
We started with an easy session on saddle shimming with Bleu. I had ridden shortly before the lesson and felt I was fighting my saddle the whole time. The experimentation that comes with shimming is very much outside my comfort zone so I wanted Wendy to hold my hand a little while we played with some changes.
Here's what I learned:
- There are three main points to evaluate for saddle shimming: scapula clearance, muscle atrophy and rider balance.
- Evaluate your horse in motion, free from the saddle. Observe carriage, head position, stride length, etc. This is the baseline for anything else you do. It works best with at least one observer but if you're alone, use a video camera to help you observe.
- If you already have a saddle and pad set-up, saddle the horse and repeat the circle game. Notice if anything changes from the "nekkid" circle game.
- Take a good look at your horse's back. Use a carrot stick to evaluate uphill vs. downhill and attach a savvy string (one that contrasts well with your horse's color works best) and drape it along your horse's spine. This gives you a very clear picture of the shape of the back.
- There are only three basic backs: uphill, downhill and atrophied. Yeah, it's almost that simple.
- Make a guess and pick the basic shim pattern. Nothing says you cannot change it.
- Observe the horse on the circle with the new set-up. Is it better? Worse? Remember, if your horse is introverted, it may take some time for her to relax enough to tell you what she really thinks.
- Experiment until you feel you have a good shim pattern. Mount up and see if you feel better, worse or whatever.
- Once you've found a pattern that works . . . KEEP EXPERIMENTING. This is the hardest part for me but it helps the pendulum really settle in the middle.
Later in the day, I rode Cricket in a 2 hour Freestyle lesson with my friend Shari and her teenage daughter, Kim. While we all had a slightly different focus, the main theme of the lesson was carrot stick riding with greater control and even a little precision.
I have to say, I was so nervous going into the lesson. Cricket had been doing great but it was in controlled environments and with familiar horses. I had no idea what to expect and I was just a little worried my expectations and ego would ruin everything.
We started just warming the horses up. Cricket was doing well and I asked her for a canter. She gave me three beautiful laps on the left lead, no hands on the rein, stick on the outside. It was wonderful!
The actual lesson started with tuning up the disengage - making sure leg = yield rather than leg = forward. This is something I've been working on and Cricket was very good. Then we put it in motion, asking for a disengage to a downward transition. We took this onto FTR and did some great CS disengage. Even from the canter!
Once this was working relatively well, we did some loose figure-8, disengaging to the halt in the center. The idea was to create a sweet spot in preparation for simple changes through the center. During this exercise, Cricket got very snarky about the sticks. I know part of the reason was me getting focused on the task and probably forgetting my phases. At one point we abandoned the plan and trotted around the arena, swinging the stick in a high-level friendly game.
Wendy put us back on the rail and we did a "jump friendly game" by approaching low jumps and going sideways around them to continue on the rail. This was great for me since I get very nervous about jumping. We changed it up again by adding in yo-yo - either up to or after the jump.
To further incorporate sideways without drilling it, Wendy set up a sideways weave. I opted to dismount to get my spurs. We did the pattern a few times and Cricket was doing well.
By this time, I think Cricket and I were both a little tired and frustrated with carrot stick riding. I decided to ditch the stick and just have some free-for-all fun. Since it was the last 10 minutes of the lesson, Wendy just turned us loose to decompress.
Cricket gave me some great canter and some very soft simple changes. Wendy snapped a little video of our ride and it was so nice to see how well we were doing. Cricket is almost to the point where she'll pick up the canter from the walk and that makes everything smoother and more balanced.
Things have unraveled a little since the lesson but that's a subject for another post and something I'm not too worried about. We'll work it out . . . just like we have everything else.